Using Green to Overcome the Blues
The idea that parks and other green spaces in our cities can improve our mental health is not new. Florence Nightingale advocated hospital gardens, and 19th century psychiatric institutions included landscaped grounds. Rather splendidly, the first municipal parks were created by the Victorians not only to improve city-dwellers’ physical health but also public morals: “…public walks would not only promote the health and morality of the people, but be beneficial to the mere wealth of the country”.
Sadly, evidence is not available on whether our cities’ public green spaces do improve our morals. But new evidence from researchers at the University of Exeter has confirmed (what many people feel intuitively) that people who move to greener urban areas significantly improve their mental health and that this improvement is sustained over time (original article by Ian Alcock, Matthew White, Benedict Wheeler, Lora Fleming and Michael Depledge; media coverage can be found here: Daily Mail and Guardian).
The same University of Exeter research group also published a paper earlier last year, which found that people living in greener urban areas tend to have both lower mental distress and higher well-being than those living in less green urban areas. In short, parks are good for our mood. Though it is still not entirely clear how this happens, there have been some attempts to explain the psychological mechanisms (e.g. here).